'Rama Readers — ready, set, Rapid-Fire! Let's kick off with some lightning-fast reviews, including this one from Lan Pitts, featuring the sophomore issue of Swamp Thing...
Swamp Thing #2 (Published by DC; Review by Lan Pitts; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10); Click here for preview): It's only understandable that while the DC universe is in the middle of a quasi de-Alan Mooreification, Swamp Thing would receive a new origin. What Scott Snyder has done here is explain the origin of ol' Swampy and how one actually becomes a Swamp Thing. It's again, mystical in nature, as is the antithesis of the Swamp Thing, and the threat of the story: Sethe. The best way I can describe Sethe is decay incarnate. It looks like a force of pestilence and rot, in the shape of a dead bird. It warps the minds of the inhabitants of the town where Alec Holland is presently residing and it quickly turns into a horror movie. Holland is saved by a mysterious biker, though the identity of who it is isn't really a shocker, but I'm OK with that and it ends on a proper cliffhanger. Snyder definitely has a niche for horror comics and even does a nod to Bernie Wrightson. His take on the character is really inspiring, and I can't wait to see how this all unfolds. Yanick Paquette does some incredible work here. How he uses vine-like constructs to do panel breakdowns and the way he handles the sheer macabre of it all is a break from the norm. I do fear this title won't be given the proper chance, but in the waves of Lanterns, Bats, and Super titles, give this one a read.
X-Men #19 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): This has been the best X-book you haven't been reading. The X-Men and the Future Foundation, teaming up to lay the smackdown on an interdimensional tyrant? Seriously, Victor Gischler and Jorge Molina have really been outdoing themselves with the past few issues, and the only reason you haven't heard of it is because it's continuity-free and not tied to any other X-events going on in every other book. Which is too bad — Gischler has a real streamlined, easy-to-read approach, with pacing that's better than the vast majority of team books out on the stands today. For example, the first page of exposition? Utterly nails it, you don't even realize what he's done until you see a totally badass panel of Magneto, grinning at what he's about to do to the FF's Dr. Doom. Then boom, you jump to Wolverine and the Thing kibitzing at each other, and then you move to Pixie and Lee Forrester. It's great. Jorge Molina, as I've said before, has shades of Olivier Coipel in terms of his designwork and composition — the only time he gets a little out of hand is with Lee Forrester, whose itty-bitty bikini suddenly cranks up the cheesecake levels beyond appropriateness. That misstep aside, this is some serious comic book comfort food that is a blast and a half. Read it.
Thunderbolts #164 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): Now, this is a pretty cool issue. Seeing the (now former) Thunderbolts stranded in the past last issue certainly opened the door for some interesting stuff, and it's nice to see they're already capitalizing on the possibilities. Taking on more period appropriate costumes and codenames, the 'Bolts make nice with the Invaders as the latter attempt to rescue the Human Torch from the clutches of none other than Baron Heinrich Zemo. It's a nice callback to the origins of the series, and there are lots of goodies in the rest of the book to boot. The only complaint I have is that some of Kev Walker's "old-timey" designs seem a little plain, but at least they're well drawn! There are a few bits of dialogue here and there, and some interesting theories on time travel being tossed about that make me think there's still more to this story than meets the eye, but I'm having a great time finding out!
Stormwatch #2 (Published by DC; Review by Lan Pitts; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): The second issue of Stormwatch is a little tricky. Paul Cornell introduces Apollo and Midnighter's first meet up as well as their invitation to Stormwatch. The book continues to push sci-fi boundaries in comics these days, even with just two issues in. The imaginative feel and imagery here almost feels like Morrison's JLA. I mean, you have our moon becoming self-aware and on the offensive. The art takes a leap of improvement in this issue with Al Barrionuevo taking on most of the pencils, with Miguel Sepulveda strictly on the moon scenes. Barrioneuvo does a great job giving the roster a more refined shape with his line work and Sepulveda carrying on a more tenuous look. I just wish it didn't feel like Cornell had put aside most of the first issue's plot development and this one feels overcrowded. I'm sure he'll remedy that in future installments, but this book continues to impress me, I just don't want to get a little lost along the way.
Moon Knight #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10; Click here for preview): I have to give credit where it's due. Last issue of Moon Knight I was supremely underwhelmed, so when Bendis and Maleev have demonstrably improved their game this go-round, I had to say something. Part of that is that something actually happens in this book — granted, it's just us finally meeting the actual villain of the piece, but Bendis' characterization gives some real menace and power here. Maleev is also a big part of why that works, as you see the villain's monocle (hint!) positively glowing with energy. In general, Maleev's work is looking a lot tighter in this issue, particularly when showing off some of the subtle differences in design between the various Avengers, proving that they're not the same generic square-jawed hero underneath their various masks. The first half of this book flows better than the first five issues of this series, and that's a credit to Bendis. Where the book falters is when we return to Moon Knight himself, who still is a little bit too much talk and not enough action — the last half of the book, when he's dealing with various Avengers, feels a little bit like filler, and derails what had been a pretty good thing. Still, Moon Knight is making some nice upward movement, and that alone deserves some review.
Penguin: Pain and Prejudice #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): Wowza, talk about punching outside of your weight class. Slightly goofy Jane Austen-referencing title aside, who'd've thunk that a book about the Penguin would be any good? Gregg Hurwitz writes probably the best thing he's ever written in comics here, as we get a dark, moody sense of why Oswald Cobblepot is the man he is. "I cut a mean figure," Oswald thinks to himself. "Not tall. Not rugged. Mean." Hurwitz is all about giving the Penguin his edge back, and in a lot of ways, he reminds me of a more restrained Bendis here, dishing up the goods about Gotham's all-too-rough underground without some of the more self-indulgent tics. Let's just say that when the Penguin feels slighted, it's a world of pain for the unlucky SOB involved, and Hurwitz delivers one of the more chilling sequences from a Bat-villain that I've seen in a long time. Artist Szymon Kudranski, meanwhile, reminds me a bit of Alex Maleev and Tony Harris, with the occasional flash of a Jae Lee or a Kelley Jones. (I know that's a lot, but it makes sense.) Kudranski's sequences of young Oswald don't quite nail the design, which does hurt the book a bit, but when we see Oswald in the present day, he is a pretty threatening customer. And when one character's world turns inside out, the choreography and composition is really effective. The only question I have for this book is that, strong execution aside, will there be enough of a market for a five-issue Penguin series? Do people want to read that character that much? The answer is unclear, but as far as Hurwitz and Kudranski's execution, they deserve the attention.
X-Men: Schism #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10; Click here for preview): X-Men: Schism has been pretty polarizing. I like Jason Aaron's style of writing. His tendency to build slowly and deliberately to the ending we deserve (though not always wanted) is refreshing in comics. However, I can also see how his more realistic approach to storytelling can rub readers the wrong way. What works for the Punisher or Wolverine does not necessarily work for the X-Men. And it kills me to say this, but it just doesn't work for Schism. I understand both sides of the argument he's presenting within the series, but quite frankly, taking 5 issues to lay it out just doesn't work. Aaron writes a clear voice for Cyclops and Wolverine, but it's an argument I've heard over and over again and no matter who writes it, I knew how it was going to end. Adam Kubert turns in decent work. When the panels cut in close, Kubert's pencils are top notch. Combined with Roslan and Keith's colors and inks, the throw-down between Wolverine and Cyclops is brutal and savage. You can feel the years between these two crashing to a violent head. Something happens however when Kubert pulls back and reveals the bigger picture. The lines look hastily drawn and lack any real depth or impact. Like the event itself, everything about X-Men: Schism #5 read like a book that was just trying to get out of the way. Decent dialogue and passable art, all just a means for an all-new mutant event in the Marvel Universe. You know, like two new X-Men books.
Huntress #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating 8 out of 10;
Click here for preview): No New 52, just plain old DC Comics. That's the first thing I noticed when I picked up Huntress #1. Seeing Paul Levitz as the writer only increased my feelings of nostalgia for this book. Opening with very little explanation about the title character, Levtiz drops us right in the middle of Italy and Helena's rather sordid past. A past that only long time DC fans will know or understand. Fine by this reviewer. Levtiz writes Huntress with a voice that only comes from years of knowing the character he helped create. Although very little is told about her background, Levtiz does a great job of setting up the reason she's gone back to the mother country. The Huntress operates in a dark world. A world where losing the money in a busted gun shipment is infinitely worse than money lost in a busted up sex-slave operation. It isn't pretty, but Levitz sells the message without being gratuitous. I'm glad to see Marcus To back, as I felt he never received enough credit for his work on Red Robin. He draws one mighty tough looking Huntress. This Helena is powerful, fueled by a righteous anger you can see in her eyes when she's faced with all the evils of humanity. In fact, I am impressed just how much expression To was able to work into a character concealed by a mask. Levtiz and To have laid a foundation for a great Huntress story. Will it appeal New 52 readers? I don't know, and to be honest I don't really care. This is a solid title and if it's part of the new DC or the recently hinted Earth-2 is irrelevant. It's just good superhero writing.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!